Prof. Ravi John Matthai (1927-1984) was the first full-time director of the IIMA. His family had strong connections with economics and teaching; his father, John Matthai was a professor of economics at the University of Madras who served as independent India’s first Minister of Railways, and later as Finance Minister. Prof. Ravi Matthai received his Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Economics from the University of Oxford. After a stint in a private firm in Kolkata he became professor of marketing at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta. In 1965, he was invited by Dr. Vikram Sarabhai to take over as Director, IIMA.
Prof. Matthai is credited with laying down the foundations of many of the institutional processes that IIMA follows even today. Many observers have highlighted his strong faith in faculty governance, academic freedom and autonomy tempered with accountability, self-regulation and self-renewal. This faith is best captured in the following extract from a 1968 speech: “The establishment of an educational institute is an act of faith. The trust we need is the trust required of such an act of faith. This trust is translated into the freedom given us. The freedom to do what we think is appropriate; the freedom to do it the way we think it appropriate; the freedom to experiment and innovate; the freedom to plan and determine the rate and direction of our progress. This is the source of our motivation and creativity.”
He developed a ‘plan’ for the institute—which was referred to, in a lighter vein, as his ‘prayer wheel’, since it was a series of concentric circles divided into segments. It reflected a vision for the institute that would play out over the next few decades. The AGCO (Agriculture and Cooperatives) group set up in 1963 was upgraded to a relatively autonomous Centre for Management of Agriculture in 1971; a Banking Sector group was created in 1969. The first University Teachers’ Programme was offered in 1965—this series of annual programmes would later lead to the Faculty Development Programme. The management development programs were strengthened with a pioneering Small and Medium Enterprises Programme in 1970-71. Extensive preparations were made for a doctoral programme and the Fellow Programme in Management was launched in 1971. A one-year Postgraduate programme in Management of Agriculture was started in 1970—this would later evolve, in 1974, into the Specialization Package in Agriculture.
Prof. Matthai supported the development of the then nascent computing scene by encouraging the acquisition of a minicomputer-based time-sharing system in 1970-71. Prof. Matthai’s tenure also saw a lot of construction activity in the Old Campus, with most of the faculty and staff housing and 13 student dormitories being completed—today’s Louis Kahn Plaza and classroom complex, however, were not ready, and the PGP classes were held in temporary classrooms, with Prof. Matthai and the faculty members having their offices in the dormitory currently labelled D-12—one of the earliest buildings on the old campus.
In January 1972, just a little less than a year and a half into his second term, Prof. Matthai created a stir by announcing his intention to step down as Director to let fresh ideas shape the Institute. A few months prior to this he had set up an Institutional Reorganization Committee, comprising junior and senior faculty members. The review committee served as a template for the “Committee for Future Directions” that future directors would also employ. In 1975 he set up the Jawaja project in a rural block of Rajasthan to apply management principles to rural development—a ‘rural university’ with which he was associated till his death on February 13, 1984. The Ravi J. Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation was set up in 1991 to honour his memory and the Institute’s auditorium is also named after him.
His inspirational speech at the first convocation of the National Institute of Design (NID) can be heard on the following link.